Dr. Banarsi Lal & Dr. P Sharma
Natural or man-made disasters have been part of man’s evolution since times immemorial. Various living creatures like the dinosaur, the Siberian tiger etc. are supposed to have vanished from the Earth due to some natural disasters, climate change, loss of habitat or even fall of meteors. The mysterious disappearance of the Indus Valley Civilization is also attributed by the historians to some disasters like the change of course of a river, a drought or an epidemic. Existing disasters risks can be minimized through a combination of various structural and non-structural measures including innovative mechanisms of risk sharing and risk insurance. We always need to get prepared for disasters management. Disaster preparedness means getting prepared for the management of disasters effectively as and when it strikes so that valuable lives can be saved and human sufferings can be minimized through various measures like evacuation, search, rescue and humanitarian assistance like shelter and relief. Preparedness further means having policies, strategies and resources for livelihoods, houses and infrastructures devastated during disasters. Disaster risk management is very important for sustainable development as damage and losses due to disasters are spiraling despite the plethora of measures taken to reduce such losses.
It has been estimated that during the past two decades around 1.3 million people were killed, 4.4 billion people affected and 2 trillion dollars lost due to disasters. India too has a share of such losses. It has been estimated by the World Bank that the economic losses due to disasters during the late nineties and early years of this century were close to 2 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and similar amount was not invested for public health in the country. Disasters eat away hard earned gains of development of over the years. Lack of development exposes vulnerable communities to the risks of disasters. Ironically development creates new risks of disasters, such as houses and infrastructure without compliance of zoning and building regulations are vulnerable; mining and industries in ecologically sensitive zones can destroy the natural system to disasters and fossil fuel based production and consumption increases the risks of climate related disasters. The Indian subcontinent is among the world’s most disaster-prone zones. As per the current seismic zone map of the country, more than 59 per cent of India’s land area is under threat of moderate to severe seismic hazard. Out of the total geographical area of 329 million hectares, more than 40 m ha is flood prone. On an average every year, 75 lakh hectares of land is affected and Rs.1805 crores damage is caused to crops, houses and public utilities due to floods.
Jammu and Kashmir state is a multi hazard prone region with natural disasters like floods, landslides, earthquakes, avalanches, fast blowing winds, besides manmade disasters like road accidents , fires etc. Human beings activities disturbs the ecological balance in many of the cases exacerbate the natural disasters. It has been observed that construction of roads or railway tracks in hilly areas of the state and unauthorized and unplanned construction on the river banks have disturbed the ecosystem. Top soil denudation for brick industry to support growing real estate industry has also enhanced the human induced disaster risk. The frequency and intensity of floods, land sliding, earthquakes, cyclones, droughts etc. have increased and thus disaster management needs greater attention. There has been increase in the areas affected by drought, heavy precipitation, floods, earthquakes, landslides, soil creeps, avalanche falls etc in J and K state.
The 2030 agenda for sustainable development adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 embedded disaster risk management with specific targets for building disaster resilience across different sectors of development support’ for disaster reduction. These are: (a) Early warning systems;(b) Emergency preparedness; (c) Slow onset events; (d) Events that may involve irreversible and permanent loss and damage; (e) Comprehensive risk assessment and management;(f) Risk insurance facilities, climate risk pooling and other insurance solutions; (g) Non-economic losses and (h) Resilience of communities, livelihoods and ecosystems.
India is the second largest populous country, one of the fastest growing economies, the largest number of people with abject poverty, children with malnutrition and adults with illiteracy in the world. Thus, India holds the key position to achieve the goals and targets of sustainable development and disaster resilience. India has legal and institutional mechanisms at various levels and deployed scientific and technological capabilities for disaster risk management with clearly visible impacts on loss of lives as was during the recent meteorological disasters like cyclones Phailin and Hudhud. But the similar results were not seen in hydrological disasters like floods or cloudbursts in Uttarakhand and J&K or geological disasters like landslides in J&K and in North-Eastern States. Technological disasters like industrial or road accidents continue to increase; threats of biological disasters like epidemics and pandemics are looming large and environmental disasters like depleting water resources and increasing air pollution in rapidly in urban areas are causes of major concerns across the nation. India’s capabilities of managing risks of earthquakes have not really been tested after the Kutch earthquake of 2001. Experts are warning about the major earthquakes can strike anywhere near thickly populated urban centres. India economic growth is expected to be propelled by some of the new initiatives like Skill India, Make in India, GST, Digital India, Smart Cities Mission, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan etc. There is need of planning, designing and implementing the development projects in different sectors to mitigate the risks of disasters. Although lots of efforts have been made in mainstreaming disasters risk reduction but not much has been achieved in this direction. The National Disaster Management Authority needs to come up with the general or specific guidelines for mainstreaming disaster risk reduction and central and state governments departments need to develop concrete plans of action for disaster management.
Disasters are not strangers to mankind. Humankind has seen the earthquakes droughts, floods, famines, diseases, land sliding, tsunami etc. and yet it survived. That is the miracle of human existence – the ability to adapt to circumstances and overcome the catastrophe. This has been well proved during the September 2014 flash floods and land sliding in Jammu and Kashmir when people helped each other and proved a tremendous effort of humanity. Preparedness and planning is necessary to handle disasters both by the governments and the community. Organisations like the National Institute of Disaster Management and National Disaster Management Authority are required to prepare pre-disaster management plans. Awareness on disaster management among the people is very important as sometimes a little knowledge can help a long way to mitigate the bad consequences of a disaster. People, especially from disaster prone areas should be trained to anticipate disaster and to deal with it in case the disaster actually happens. Effective communication is the keyword and a well-thought out communication strategy can assist in disaster management. We cannot stop the disasters but we can minimize them and strengthen ourselves with the knowledge, so that the valuable lives can be saved.
(The writers are: Dr. Banarsi Lal, Scientist and Head of KVK, Reasi and Dr. Pawan Sharma, Scientist at KVK, Kathua (Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology-Jammu) (SKUAST-J).
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